Forward Ritsu Doan said Japan's historic World Cup wins over Germany and Spain counted for nothing after the Blue Samurai were eliminated by Croatia in the last 16 on December 5.

Japan missed out on a first-ever place in the quarter-finals after a 3-1 penalty shootout defeat to the Croatians, following a gruelling encounter that finished 1-1 after extra-time.

Japan beat both Germany and Spain in the goup stage in Qatar but Doan took no consolation from his team's achievements.

"I expected someone to say that if we lost, but to be honest it doesn't mean anything," he said.

"No matter how well we fought today, we didn't change history."

Daizen Maeda gave Japan the lead late in the first half before Ivan Perisic levelled for Croatia 10 minutes after the break.

Japan struggled to create more chances but held for penalties, only for Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to save their first two spot kicks.

Croatia's Marko Livaja hit the post to give Japan a reprieve but Livakovic saved Maya Yoshida's kick to give Mario Pasalic match point for the Europeans.

Pasalic buried his penalty to send Croatia through, leaving Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu to lament his players' failure to convert their spot-kicks.

"Penalties are a mix of luck and training," he said.

"Their goalkeeper was excellent but the Japanese players should have done better and that's something we need to work on in the future."

Japan were aiming to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, having lost in the last 16 at three previous World Cups.

The team arrived in Qatar with 19 Europe-based players in their squad and midfielder Wataru Endo said they would need more overseas experience to take the next step.

"We need to have more players playing with European clubs – we need 20 or 30," he said.

"We can improve our quality and become a better team. We are improving but we weren't good enough to get to the quarter-finals."

Moriyasu is also confident that Japan will return stronger.

"This result doesn't cancel out everything the players have done here," he said.

"They have shown they have the confidence to play at the world level and have shown how good they can be.

"Japanese football can continue to grow."

Mourning hopes

Devastated Japan fans mourned their hopes for a historic quarter-final appearance as the Blue Samurai crashed out of the World Cup.

Despite the driving rain and chilly December temperatures, supporters packed into pubs for the kick-off at midnight local time, eager to see the country progress beyond the last 16 of football's global showpiece for the first time.

Expectations were high after Japan's stunning victories over Germany and Spain in the group stage, and the crowd at one bar in Tokyo erupted into rapturous chants of "Nippon! Nippon!" when they scored first.

But after an equaliser from Croatia, followed by extra time and a painful penalty shoot-out, fans were left nursing their dreams of the final eight.

"They tried so hard!" said IT worker Arai Shizuru, 39.

"It's sad, but I want to thank them for getting this far and keeping the dream alive... I didn't want it to go to penalties, but what can you do," she told AFP.

"This time, with so many players playing in European leagues, I thought we could have a breakthrough," said 24-year-old Hidetoshi Shiseki.

Eight of Japan's World Cup squad play in the German Bundesliga, with several others in European sides ranging from Arsenal to Monaco.

"But at the very end of the match, the team from Europe proved they had more potential after all. How disappointing," Shiseki said.

A 60-year-old fan who gave his nickname as Totti said Japan had lacked "a mean streak in the penalty shoot-out" and instead had played "in a straightforward way".

"They could have been more like Neymar, who moves very cunningly," he said.

Rina Ogawa, 24, said that even though "the result was a sad one, it was a good match".

In the group stage, with wins against Germany and Spain, "we already reached heights that we had never experienced before", she told AFP.

"One more inch, just one more inch – I want to see them advance next time."